I can’t tell you what prompted this email because it is secret, but I will tell you that there is an interesting discussion happening in the Foundation about something that people might have an opinion on. Tantalizing isn’t it? Makes you wonder what people are talking about, huh? Well, trust me, it is interesting, it illustrates thinking behind a topic that many developers are discussing, but the conversation I’m talking about is secret, by the very act of participating in the discussion I’ve agreed to conceal it. I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to tell you where it took place. Did it happen on IRC? Or, did it happen on a private mailing list? Certain people are going to read this post and say that it is inappropriate that I even mentioned it.
This is why transparency is essential…radical transparency
Every discussion that can be held in public that relates to the ASF must be held in public. The only discussions that need to be conducted on a “private” IRC channel, or on a private mailing list are those discussions that relate to security vulnerabilities or specific personnel and legal issues. One of the things that has worried me about the ASF over the years is that certain PMCs and certain groups within the organization act on an authority that seems incompatible with the idea of a consensus-based meritocracy, and there seems to be an ever changing interpretation of “The Apache Way”.
Apache exists as a governance structure for a community of loosely coupled volunteers. It thrives because it attracts projects and people to the core ideas of community-driven development, meritocracy, and a common license. As it develops, as it grows over time, as the support cost for the Foundation increase, it appears to be under increasing pressure to “institutionalize” certain parts of its operation. As this growth continues, it will be interesting to see if it faces the same struggle between individual project autonomy versus standardization that would face any organization (or state). Will Apache adopt a “Federal” or corporate model of governance that requires TLPs to buy into much more than just “The Apache Way” and expand its reach to the tools, processes, and technologies that help to define a unique community?
I’d be happier with the Foundation, if someone at the top reminded people of a commitment to radical transparency. By this I mean that all participants, at every level of the organization should be conducting as much business as possible in the open. If the Board has a mailing list, it should discuss what can be discussed in the open. If Members have a mailing list, they should remind each other that Sunlight is a necessary disinfectant for open source. I encourage people to refuse to participate in a conversation that could happen out in the open. If someone brings up something on a PMC list that could just as easily happen on a development list, call foul, ask them to move it to the dev list.